FEATURE: Dixon Rose

Just who is Dixon Rose? News Letter Online The gives you a flavour

It's just a flavour, for if we tried to list all Dixon has done, all the hats he's worn and roles filled in hockey and cricket, we wouldn't have space to tell the story behind the CV.

A former Irish hockey international, unlucky not to be capped in cricket – ironically he later became a national selector – he's held the top offices in both sports, being President of the Irish Hockey Union and Irish Cricket Union in quick succession in the mid-1980s.

He played 104 times for Ulster at hockey and captained both his province and his country before becoming a giant of the sport off the field.

Rose has served on the Ulster Branch Council for 50 years and been heavily involved in running the game at national level since the late 1970s.

On Saturday, Rose reaches the end of a two-year stint as President of the Irish Hockey Association – the successor to the IHU – but this respected elder statesman will continue to be heavily involved in the game in various capacities.

Although a life-long Instonian when it comes to cricket – he had an astonishing 37-year senior career and was club chairman for a decade – this loyal one-club man has maintained his allegiance to Cliftonville Hockey Club where he has, remarkably, been Honorary Secretary for almost half a century.

"I think those involved in the two clubs understand how my loyalties lie as they do and basically it dates back to my schooldays. I learned my cricket at RBAI but back then the school wasn't so keen on hockey so I played it initially in a club context," Rose explains.

Dixon's dad was President of the Irish Hockey Union in 1932 and although the club has hit hard times, not least when targeted by sectarian thugs during the Troubles, Rose remains loyal.

Ironically there's some strife at present between the cricket and hockey sections at Greenisland, which Dixon describes as "sad", but blames the scum who drove the Cliftonville club out of its old home on the Cliftonville Road in the early 1970s.

"That was the lowest point of my involvement in sport as we were forced to abandon the ground. We were under constant attack and the Army failed to protect us. The bar was burned and looted and in the end our own safety was at risk.”

In spite of adversity, Cliftonville won the Irish Cup for the first time in 1974 and that remains Dixon’s hockey highlight, outstripping even his international honours.

From his career chronology, not least the fact that he made his Instonians First XI cricket debut in 1947 aged 13, it’s easy to work out that this impressive figure is now a sprightly seventy-something though you wouldn’t think it.

Always bright and dapper, his energy and enthusiasm would put younger people to shame but it isn’t that Dixon’s determined to hog hockey administration; he’d happily hand on the baton to those prepared to step up like he was many years ago.

“I used to have great theories about how the two sports should be run and was involved in various committees and offices from a fairly early stage. I suppose I made waves with good intentions – out of some sense, rightly or wrongly, that I could run hockey better.”

On paper, there’s a marked generation gap between Dixon and the present players but he “does talk to them when we’re away with the Irish team” and attempts to engage constructively with the current crop rather than heading up a dictatorship.

“I hopefully have some credibility (with players) as a result of having played at the highest level, even though that was a very different era,” says the man who went on to be Ireland’s chairman of selectors for 12 years.

“My first Ulster cap came at Comber in 1954 and I made my Irish debut three years after that. I only got another 14 caps over the next 11 years - it would probably be about 100 now with many more fixtures and substitutions. I was 12th man on numerous occasions.

In cricket, Rose was unlucky to miss out altogether on international honours – “without wanting to sound arrogant, I knew I was good enough” – especially as he top scored in one Irish trial and is Instonians’ leading run-getter of all-time.

His first senior appearance at 13 may have come due to a late cry-off – there as scorer, the young Dixon was asked to step in – but it wasn’t long until Rose was being picked on merit. He was 50 and ICU President by the time he played his last game for the First XI in 1984.

Unlike some, Dixon didn’t drop down then and play for junior teams, largely because he had other onerous commitments in the two sports.

Although he has largely taken a back seat in Ulster and Irish cricket since stepping down as ICU President, Rose retains a strong interest in that sport and has been influential in Instonians emerging as one of the top teams in the NCU in the past decade or so.

In addition to taking a leadership role in the cricket club, Rose – who was on the NCU Executive for a quarter of a century – has given stalwart service in his work on the squares at Shane Park and, latterly, Shaw’s Bridge following Instonians’ move to their new home.

“I was sad to see Shane Park go but we weren’t going to make progress there and, financially, we couldn’t sustain it. Cooke were a junior club but a thriving set-up with fantastic facilities and good connections.

“We weren’t their first choice as partners actually but by and large it’s worked well and both benefit from the arrangement as well as retaining autonomy as clubs.”

He has recently stepped down as chair of the Shaw’s Bridge Sports Complex grounds committee and member of its management committee having decided it was time to take a break following a lifetime of pitch preparation.

“Jack McDowell, who actually won a cap for Ireland in rugby, had become deaf as a result of damage done to his hearing during the War and took the groundsman job at Osborne Park.

“That was where I learned my cricket and he also taught us how to make wickets so he was my mentor in that regard as well. I took it on as a labour of love and subsequently spent many hours working on the pitches at Shane Park and Shaw’s Bridge but I’ve given it up now because it does take over your life.”

Another area of expertise and distinction for the tireless Belfast man has been as chief organiser of international hockey tournaments.

As well as being tournament director at any number of events down through the years, Rose was chairman of the organising committee for the European Nations Cup from 1991 to 1995 and the women’s European Championships in 2005, and event manager for the women’s World Cup in Dublin 14 years ago.

A strong-minded man with enormous experience in sports administration, Rose’s insights in relation to many live issues in hockey – from an All Ireland League to Ireland missing out on the Olympics to finance and governance – and cricket’s current challenges would merit an article in themselves.

It’s interesting that he isn’t convinced of the merits of an all-island league even though the stick sport is introducing one next term and he has no magic solution to the unavilability of top players for the national team, but Rose reckons Irish hockey has reasons to be optimisitic about the future.

He has also served on the Sports Council and has clear views on wider sporting subjects such as the proposed Maze multi-sports stadium, to which he has very valid objections.

But let’s leave those debates for another day. After all he’s given to his clubs and sports down through the years, Dixon Rose’s record of achievement and service should be highlighted in its own right.

Just in case some cocky young ignoramus should ever be labouring under the misapprehension that he or she knows better. Sorry, sir!